Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatal Disease Is Growing among Deer, Elk in State

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatal Disease Is Growing among Deer, Elk in State

Article excerpt

Finally, research shows Americans are stepping out more often, and watching wildlife is a memorable part of every outdoor activity. But one big threat to those views may be a disease affecting deer and elk that is gaining a bigger foothold in Pennsylvania.

Chronic wasting disease is a transmissible neurological disorder of deer and elk characterized by loss of body condition, behavioral abnormalities and always the death of the animal. It is the result of an oddly folded protein, or prion, causing a form of spongiform encephalopathy that carves sponge-like holes in the brains of its victims, similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

Originating in Colorado in 1969, CWD is now confirmed in 24 states including Pennsylvania, where it seems to have recently crossed a transmission threshold, doubling the number of cases from 2016 to 2017. It is not contagious to pets, but recent research suggests that despite longtime scientific consensus, it may be transferable to humans who eat the malformed protein.

CWD is a disease of cervids - hooved animals in the deer family - which are considered "keystone species" because they eat the habitat that every other animal needs for food and shelter. Researchers have said the rapid elimination of a keystone species in CWD hotspots would have dire consequences for all plants and animals and the people who enjoy them.

Chronic wasting disease was the subject of a well-attended seminar Sunday at the Allegheny Outdoors, Sport and Travel Show in Monroeville. Wayne Laroche, special assistant for CWD response for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the state's fourth Disease Management Area will soon be established following a new case discovered on a commercial deer farm in Lancaster County last week.

"This is a setback here in Pennsylvania and it's now in half of the states," he said. "Hunters know about this because they know what's going on with deer, but for the most part the general public is just starting to hear about it now."

The prions are believed to have spread through the commercial exchange of deer among deer farms from Texas to Saskatchewan Province in Canada. Researchers including Mr. …

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